Comes now Devon Corporation, with its plans to build a glittering new skyscraper downtown. And — a plan to grab off a quarter of a billion dollars in property tax revenue over the next 25 years to spend on special downtown projects to make downtown even more special. It’s called a “TIFF District”, and it is nothing less than the theft of tax revenue for special purposes.
Through my work with the Catholic Worker House, over the last ten years every month I have been out and about in Oklahoma City’s low income neighborhoods delivering food. I have watched as conditions in those neighborhoods have continued to deteriorate. Every year, this city looks more and more like a Victor Hugo novel – glittering new spaces and upscale businesses on one side, grinding poverty on the other.
One reason for that deterioration is that the City’s tax money is being bled out through a death of a thousand cuts for various economic development schemes like the welfare check for Thunder basketball team, and also its subsidy of upscale sprawl throughout the city’s periphery. Looking at the news reports, it sounds likely to me that this will also inevitably fund schemes that will drive eminent domain pogroms against the low income areas around downtown too. It will reduce the amount that Oklahoma City public schools would receive from the area.
Oh, and instead of funding projects on a pay as you go basis, they are going to run out and borrow a bunch of money on the city’s tab to put all this activity on a fast track. So it’s not even a quarter of a billion dollars for city projects, because the lawyers and the underwriters and the bankers and the bondholders will make off with a fat chunk of that goobermint loot.
Here we are, perhaps at the beginning of the Second Great Depression, and we are about to be on the hook for a quarter of a billion dollar tax liability. Here’s hoping Devon doesn’t go bankrupt, or that they aren’t bought by someone else and have its headquarters moved to Houston. “But someone will always own the building”, its supporters reply. “But” if they don’t have money, they can’t pay their taxes, and then the city taxpayers will have to pay the bonds ourselves, and there goes another chunk of city revenue. We may end up owning an empty skyscraper that no one wants, and where is our mighty tax revenue then? Economic circumstances are way to risky right now to make a 25 year bet of this magnitude.
If you live in Oklahoma City, take the time to call your councilperson at City Hall and encourage them to JUST VOTE NO on the Devon TIFF district.